What if you just let it be?

There are times I just don’t know what to do anymore. The great sadness is so in front of me that I can’t see anything else. It takes my breath away. I want to run from it or to become very angry or to do addictive stuff. I don’t know what to do with this and most of all I want to push it away from me. Far, far away.

This sadness pops up at the strangest moments. I walk upstairs, smell something and bam! I am one year back in time. It is as if it all just happened yesterday and Amanda is still in her room. In her crib. Silent. Then I realize: Yes! I have another child! Where is she?

At moments like these it is so real for me that I am amazed. Because at other moments I just enjoy life and also I do not think of her every second of the day. Although, when I am really honest, it is always present, slumbering. Like a thread woven through everything. You cannot pull it out.

‘What if you just allow it to be there? That you just tell God how you feel, how sad you are and how hard it all is. And that you just sit quietly and that God comes sitting next to you and He puts His arm around you?’

This is what a sweet lady said to me some weeks ago when I told her that I did not know how to deal with this deep pain inside, while I just want to be there for the children, do my job, live my life. Her answer freed me somehow. It made me think of the song ‘Just be held’, a song I listened to a lot in the first weeks after Amanda’s birth.

Yes. What if I just let it be there? Then I feel the brokenness. The brokenness of my own heart, my life. Then I feel how vulnerable I am. Then I realize that I have so many questions: Why? How would she have been now? How can I go on? How do I help my children? God, are You really there?

If I just let it be there, if I become honest and if I allow God in it, then I realize that God is indeed standing next to me. He is listening. I only need to be who I am wíth my pain and questions, ín my brokenness and vulnerability. Actually, that is why I called this website ‘broken but real’.

I don’t know what God will do then. That is why I find this so hard, even scary. But the times that I tried to ‘just let everything be’, I noticed that He was there. That He really wants to carry me through, even though it is not clear to me why things worked out the way they did and why there is still so much going on today in our lives.

Not long ago I found a little book in the bookstore, called in Dutch: ‘Even if the hardest sorrow hits you’. It is a translation of the book written in 1674: ‘A token for mourners’ by John Flavel. He had to bury more than one loved one, also children. He tries to encourage, out of his faith: ‘do not try to hastily shake off the yoke that God has put on your shoulders. You should not want to be freed of your sadness before Gods time. Endure with endurance. When God gives you comfort, in His time and mannner, this comfort will be lasting and wholesome.’

I cried when I read this and saw the connection with what the woman said to me before. I try to shake off my grief again and again. I try to live as if nothing happened. But it is better to allow the pain and the sorrow to just be there and allowing God to sit next to me in it. Even though I might not receive answers to my questions. Even when situations don’t change and even though illness, death, bullying, divorces and all kind of misery keep on occurring.

Because we are broken people. Allowed to just be there. 

First published in Dutch on April 18, 2018

Remembering

So there we were again. Not to bury this time, but to remember. After the kids came home from school and we finished our tea, we went to the cemetery and walked to her grave again. With a fake-birthday cake made of stone, just as one of our children had proposed. And a babypink candle in the shape of a 1. The cake was actually a thrift-box so we used the slot for a candle stand. We lightened the candle and all of us hold a sparkler while I read the poem I wrote earlier that day out loud:

A year ago she was born
we didn’t hear her voice

Today we remember her life so short
Mostly hidden from our sight

We are glad that she existed
Grateful for what God did in our hearts

Her life was not in vain
She means something for us and for God

Amanda: wanted and loved
switched earth for heaven

She went before us,
she is where she has to be
and when we die later,
she too will welcome us.

One of children cried. Another started to throw around some stones. And then another came with arms full of daffodils and cried out proudly: ‘Look mum! These still have their roots!’ hoping that these would last while planting them on Amanda’s grave. Scoop and rake where brought along and two of our children started fervently digging and planting. My Swedish friend told me that in Swedish daffodils were called ‘Easter lilies’ so daffodils are now also related to Amanda as her name is fully Susan Amanda and Susan means ‘lily’.

After everyone did what her or she wanted to do, we walked back to our car and went to a restaurant. To celebrate the day of birth of our third daughter. Without her being present. Very strange. But also very good to do. And also very strange.

Tomorrow it will be a year ago that she was buried: the closing of a very intense week of welcoming and saying goodbye and after that the deep hole. Literally and as a matter of speaking. ‘We are still combing the beach’, my Love said while making a long walk on her birthday, a year after. And that’s it, all though I’ve found out that faith, hope and love, will be there always, even thought we don’t feel that all the time.

These words in my poem: ‘and when we die later, she too will welcome us’, I really mean them. I always looked forward to meeting Jesus, my savior who is risen from the dead. But now there is an extra dimension to that. We will see each other again. It took a while before I was convinced of that. The weeks after her death I was so confused. But now I am sure of it. Death does not have the final word. Remembering is more than looking back to how things were. I am also looking ahead. To what is to come.

First published in Dutch on March 26, 2018

grafje 22 maart 2018.JPG

It is really sad that she is dead

I am making a baby-album in memory of Amanda. I come across the notes people wrote by means of a condolence-register. I glue them in between the photos. There are such sweet things written on it. Encouraging words. Words for us. Words for Amanda. Words of compassion. Words of adults and of children.

It was so good that there were also children at the funeral. We invited a close friend of each of our children and also some nephews and nieces where there. These children wrote – where we would use more fluffy language – just down what they thought: ‘It’s a bummer that I could not get to know you and that I will never see you’. ‘It is too bad that she is dead.’ ‘Be happy for she is in heaven’. I also found a graphic drawing of a little human in the ground with six crying puppets next to it. Lurid and endearing at the same time.

I need all emotional strength I have to finish this project. To give a place to the only pictures we have of her. Tears are running down my cheeks while I go through the moments again showed by the photos. How it was when she came to the world. How we met her for the first time. How we came home and showed her to her brothers and sisters and to our parents, sisters and my best friends. How we again and again sat next to her crib. And then how we laid her in the basket, closed the lid and took her to the graveyard. The one occasion that we traveled with the seven of us.

Then we walked to the grave. My Love went down the stairs into the grave, took over the basket with our daughter in it and carefully placed it on the floor of that deep hole. His eyes full of grief and resentment. I see on the pictures how he climbed out of it and fell into my arms. I see the despair, the sharp pain, the immense sadness. Now that I type this I become nauseous again and I remember how weeks from then I had to fight the desire to dig her up again. So bizarre. My brain knows of course that that is not something you should do, should not want to do.

But it is my child that is lying there. A part of me, a part of us. And you can’t just leave your child behind! I still can’t get my head around it and in these weeks we remember all that has happened as if it was just some weeks ago. It seems all so clear to me.

When I shared with a friend that it all comes back to me so vividly again, she said: ‘that makes sense. If one of your other children has their birthday, you also think back to the beginning, the delivery, to how everything was. It is so normal to do the same with Amanda now that she will have her birthday soon.

And it is. It will soon be her birthday and we think back. We are still trying to find a way how we can make this a good a time for all of us. One of my children suggested that we could buy a fake-birthday cake and place that on her grave. And then every year a new one so that you can see exactly how old she is. I like this idea and it makes me think of what someone told me about what Jews do. Every time they visit a grave, they place a little stone on it. Over the years, there will be a pile of stones. It shows that that person is not forgotten.

Rituals become important. It is more important than I thought. It gives support. Rituals say things you cannot say with words, someone said to me last week. Burning a candle isn’t that weird, I found out on All Saints Day and World Wide Candle Light Day. So maybe we will do that too when she is having her birthday. And I think we will have a birthday cake, just as we have on other birthdays. Because it is really sad that she is dead, but we are surely very happy that she has existed.

First published in Dutch on March 14, 2018

You have to decide to let go

I know it is true. That God is always there. That He will lead me through the valley of death. That there will be a moment in my life that I am able to say: He turned my mourning into dancing. If it is not now, then surely it will be later when I am in heaven. I know that in times I don’t feel Him near and grief is coming over me like a misty cloud that you just can’t avoid, He still is there. And that He is even carrying me as the great poem about footprints in the sand tries to convey.
But I am not there yet. I am coming closer I think. I can see that I am not as much overwhelmed with sorrow as I was shortly after we had to bury our daughter. But deciding to let go seems to be an ongoing process of little by little, step by step.
This process started when the ultrasound showed that our little girl wasn’t growing as could have been expected. We prayed and we prayed and surrendered her to God, hoping that she would grow and thrive. But a couple of weeks later another ultrasound showed complete silence. Feelings that we’ve never had before began to wash over us and we cried out: no, no, no, God, no!
God was there. We turned to Him in despair and disbelief. Realizing the ugly truth, while not able to accept it as being true at the same time. We prayed: God, how do we tell our children their sister died? God, did she suffer? God, why? And also we kept repeating: she is Yours Lord. From the beginning she was, and now she is already with You. Where she belongs. With You. No safer place. I let her go.
Two days later I had to deliver her into the world. She didn’t see the light. Her eyes didn’t see. We did not hear her voice. We did not see her move. I cried. She did not. Holding her tiny body, I knew I had to let her go. I lifted her up towards heaven, I dedicated her to the Lord over and over again. I give her to you Lord. I decide to let go. I surrender. God this is so hard. I want to hold her, cherish her, feed her, love on her, lavish her with kisses and give her everything, but she is not there to receive it. She’s already with You.
After a couple of days of welcoming her into the world and into our family, holding her, taking pictures, showing her to some relatives and friends, we finally had to bury her. We put her in a babypink basket, carried her to a hole in the ground, covered it with rose petals. It’s just horrific. Every cell in my body screamed: No! How can I leave my child behind? It left me completely bewildered. Purely on ratio I was able to stand up and walk away while fighting against the desire to go back and dig her up again. My child. My child. I have to let you go.
Today it’s been exactly eleven months that she was born.
Some weeks ago I asked another bereaved parent: ‘Sometimes the pain is so overwhelmingly deep that it seems I can’t breathe. Do you recognize that?’ He said: ‘I do but you have to decide to let it go.’ And he went on and quoted Matthew 11: 28-30. He pointed me to Jesus to find rest for my soul.
At first, I felt condemned by his words. I interpreted it as if I should just leave it behind, ignore it, and go on. But in the last weeks, I came to see that every time grief kicks in, I have a choice. What do I do when grief comes washing over me again like a wave that is just too big to avoid? Do I become passive and let sorrow take me over, or do I actively cry before the Lord, express my grief and handle it over to Him again?
Sometimes I am not there yet. Sometimes I am just not able to let go and hold on to my sorrow by doing something else, trying not to think about it, numbing myself. But other times I am there. Sometimes, in my mind, I lift her body towards heaven all over again and say the same words: Lord, I give her to you. She was Yours from the beginning, I am glad she will not suffer anymore, I am grateful she is in complete wholeness with You.
I came to realize that this is not a one-time-thing. This is something I very well might have to do over and over again as over time, we’ll miss her in different ways, our grief will change. Today it is the baby we miss. In a year, she would have been a toddler and then we will probably miss our toddler. And every time that I am aware of missing her, and I feel that deep pain pop up again, taking my breath away, I can decide to let it go. And if I am not there yet, I’ll hope I will be there soon. Because I want to decide to let it go.
First published in Dutch on February 22 2018

Countdown

Living through the first year after Stillbirth. Counting down to the day of birth.

‘First, you have to go through the first year’, they said to us. The first year wherein you have to do everything for the first time without your little one. Birthdays, holidays, Christmas, all these special occasions and celebrations. And after that: the second year. Then it will be again different. Still hard, but different.

We nodded, not understanding what they meant exactly. And we went on and did it. We lived through the first year. My own birthday was the first birthday after her death, with empty tummy and salty tears. Many birthdays and celebrations followed and now soon it will be hér time to have her birthday.

When were confronted with the death of our baby girl, we were taken to the hospital’s social worker. ‘You need to call yourself in sick’, she said, ‘and you need to call the schools’. We sat there, dazed, amazed, thunderstruck. We absolutely did not realize how far reaching her death would be for us and to be honest, I thought it would get better soon.

I thought we just needed to swallow this and go on. It is terrible, but life goes one. Life always goes on. That is what I expected. Or better: what I thought need to happen. You just have to go trough it and then that’s it. But that did not happen. The soul of a human being is so much deeper, more complicated and unfathomable than I understood at that time.

Somewhere somehow in the past weeks, I started to count down, without realizing it. We started to live towards Amanda’s first birthday. One year ago tomorrow, we heard that she did not grow well. We were referred to the hospital where we heard that the situation was worrisome. One year ago tomorrow I started to really slow down.

Me. Slowing down. Me. These two don’t go well together. Even the burnout in the previous year before getting pregnant, had not made me really slow down. Even then I could not let go, let things be.

But now the life of someone else was at stake. I realized that I would never forgive myself if because of my busyness my child would be in danger, so I stopped. I took rest. I enjoyed being pregnant, feeling the little kicks and even expanding. I invited my kids and my Love to join, helped them to feel the signs of new life inside of me. These, later appeared to be last, weeks of her life taught me to leave housekeeping for what it was, to accept that a family of six just is messy and dusty. It taught me to pray ‘bless this mess’ even more.

It all happened such a short time ago, it seems. It is so deeply imprinted in my memory, that I almost can’t imagine that it is already nearly eleven months ago that she was born still, as they say. Stillborn, that sounds less harsh then the Dutch word ‘doodgeboren’ (‘deathborn’).

She was born still. So still. But I don’t think about that now. In my mind I have not yet arrived on her day of birth. I am currently in the days before that happened, when she was still making herself known by small kicks in my belly. The time that I thankfully made time to feel her and cherish her, not knowing that these would be my only chances to do that. And so I am counting down until the day that she was born.

First published in Dutch on February 18, 2018

Final

The last you can do for someone dear who died, is choosing a gravestone. I postpone it since I do not want this to be the final thing I can do.

This week it was time to choose a gravestone. We had postponed to do this for quite some time. And now that we started to search for one, this appears to be a process too. At this moment, there is a temporary wooden sign on the grave, lovingly and beautifully made by our eldest daughter. But wind and rain are affecting it, making it less readable. Something permanent needs to replace it. Something final. What a horrible word that is.

The last couple of days, before we went to the stonemason, I was restless. Busy, busy, busy, alternated with Netflix. As long as I did not have to dwell by what I was feeling. But in the meantime I was restless, petulant, not really myself. That does not add well to the atmosphere at home, but only that morning, the morning that we were about to go, I could finally sat myself down and quietly write and by that find out what is really going on.

It is the last thing we can do.

It is the only thing that needs to be done for her. And maybe that is the reason why this weighs so heavy on me. I don’t want to do this.

I don’t want to do this.

I don’t want to do this. While I allow the feelings to come up. The feelings this awareness brings to the surface, again that feeling of huge resistance comes up. Resistance against that what is so obvious but what I apparently still cannot and do not want to accept. She is not here anymore and she will never come back. We buried her body knowing that we will see her again when Jesus returns or when we ourselves have died. But here we will not see each other anymore and realizing this again hurts so much that I can’t barely breathe. This is breath taking in a very negative way and what can I do about it? I want to scream, kick, curse, punch, but I know of course that it will help in no way. It won’t solve, change or take away the pain.

We need to do this and again I speak firmly to myself, trying to get my emotions and brains together by writing, giving words, reasoning. It doesn’t really ease the pain. But by telling about it, it gets more clear and that what is unreachable comes more within reach so I can deal with it better.

Words are really essential in this process of accepting. When I give words to what I feel, unravel by describing it, I find out what’s really going on inside. And when I read it again, I can cry over it, I can begin to accept that this is a part of the big balloon of grief that needs to be taken in. I can process, I can weave it into my life. Allowing others to read it, means I acknowledging that this is there and of course I also hope that others can benefit from it in their own journey through grief or supporting others in their journey.

I didn’t expect this choosing of a gravestone would be so challenging. That it would be this painful. But now that I think about it, it makes so much sense. Putting a stone on the grave is like putting a lid on something or like closing the book. It reminds me of putting a dot after a sentence or press send when you signed your email. It symbolizes closing, finishing off. You put a stone (something that can endure the weather and the wind) on a grave and you try to put words on it that describe who the person was to you to mark where she has been laid down to rest. And then you walk away. You’re shutting it down, make it final. The grave. The chapter. But not your heart. That would be too final.

First published in Dutch on February 1, 2018, 11 months after the stillbirth of Amanda.

Twenty four hours of light

World Wide Candle Light Day. In loving memory of those who went before us.

wereldlichtjesdag

Today it is ‘World Wide Candle Lighting Day’. From seven to eight tonight, when somewhere else in the world it is already eight o clock, in the townhall of my city (and in a lot of places elsewhere in my time zone) candles will be lit. And when it is eight o clock here, somewhere else in the world it is seven o’clock and there will be candle lightning there. And so, hour after hour, over the whole world there will be candles burning for twenty four hours in a raw in remembrance of our deceased children.

I was joining this event last year with my family and it was a very special moment. It was special to be together with other parents who lost a child. It was special to experience this with the six of us. And it was special because during the lighting of the candles, the names of the children we lost were called.

We plan to go again this evening. It is so nice to hear Amanda’s name spoken out loud. It is so weird to notice what that does to us. I think it is because when her name is called, her existence is acknowledged. And she is in my system, in my head, but speaking about her doesn’t come naturally. Because no one sees her and I can’t tell if she already starts to talk, that she has the same curly hair as her sister had and where I bought her little shoes.

And it is so good to do this with the six of us. I wrote somewhere earlier: mourning together is almost impossible and I still think it is true. When I don’t need to cry, someone else does. When I am having a hard time, someone else thinks: ‘please, not now!’ And this is okay and understandable, but it makes ‘mourning together’ something that just is not possible.

Mourning is something individual, while in the meantime we long for contact, also in our grief. That is why such a moment, where we go together to the townhall, write down her name, hear her name called and cry or not, is an important and precious ritual to express the sorrow and the connection we all have, even though we are very different in how we process this.

Today it is World Wide Candle Lighting Day and I think this comes in a good time. Last week we celebrated ‘Sinterklaas’ which is a Dutch tradition where we give each other gifts wrapped in a craft with a poem. And actually more gifts are given. And as I was preparing the gifts for my children, the pain of loss came up now an then. I do not have gifts for her. All the gifts I bought are for children above nine. And I wonder how she is doing. If God is spoiling her. And I realize that the love she receives now, is so much bigger than gifts can ever communicate.

And after World Wide Candle Lighting Day, Christmas comes quite quickly, where everything revolves around a baby. God who became helpless to show us His love. The Almighty who became powerless to draw us close to His heart. In our family, everyone gets a book on December 25. A tradition we took over from the church we grew up in (In Holland it was not common to give gifts with Christmas, we do that on December 5 with Sinterklaas). We go for a long walk and we do a grill party at home. We visit our family. And again we will do this without her. Especially on these special days, the loss feels extra heavy.

Then we will celebrate New Year’s Eve. We think about what we can thank and pray for. We write everything down in two columns on a big piece of paper: ‘we thank for 2018 …’ and ‘we pray for 2019…’. And then there is again a lot where we are thankful for, there are prayers answered and we look forward for what is coming. And there are prayers unanswered, longings unfulfilled. The missing of Amanda has not diminished. Some problems are much more severe and persistent than we hoped. And we lay that down too at the One who oversees it all and knows what He is doing.

I like it that between all those festivities, there is World Wide Lighting Candle Day. To lit a candle, to hear Amanda’s name called, to cry together or not. Because she indeed is always an invisible but tangible part of us.

Published in Dutch on December 4, 2018